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Showdown Is a No-Win Situation in Third Budget Battle of the Year

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
From left: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders gathered before a Friday news conference to discuss the possibility of a government shutdown.

In an effort to force the Senate to accept its bill, the House adjourned Friday for a weeklong recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called on House Republican leaders to meet with Senate Democrats and negotiate a compromise over the weekend, but no talks were publicly announced. Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), in an email Sunday said only, “We remain in touch with the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Leadership.”

Making good on Reid’s threat to work through the recess to avoid a government shutdown, the Senate will vote Monday evening on its own CR, which is identical to the House version except that the bill does not offset the disaster spending.

Lawmakers came back from their August recess seeming more ready to cooperate after being chastised by constituents over the high-stakes battles over spending that took place earlier this year, including the bruising August fight over raising the debt ceiling.

The latest fracas has shown that the two parties are eager to score political points and are looking ahead to next year’s elections. But that may not be a winning political strategy for either side.

Ron Bonjean, a partner at public affairs firm Singer Bonjean Strategies, said, “Right now, no, there’s not a political value of this down-to-the-last-minute pushing the CR across the line and having a huge debate about it.”

He added, “People are exhausted of Washington gridlock, and they’re tired of hearing about potential government shutdown.”

But Bonjean, an aide to former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), said that House Republicans are simply making good on their 2010 pledge to shrink the size of government and cut spending. Although the political fervor hasn’t reached a high mark in the current CR debate, Bonjean said that Congressional Republicans are building a case to present to voters next year.

“They can point to a solid track record of showing momentum with their political goals,” he said. “A year ago, no one thought we’d have a super committee dealing with trillions of dollars in spending cuts. They keep pushing that theme, saying we’ve been successful with one side of Capitol Hill on pushing back against the Democratic agenda.”

If the House and Senate are able to resolve this week’s impasse, the next one could occur just before Nov. 18. That is when government funding is expected to run out again and when Congress may begin to consider a deficit reduction package being developed by the super committee.

A Senate Democratic aide said the GOP should work with Democrats rather than looking to placate its base.

“Republicans saw some polls in August showing that the public was disgusted with their approach of refusing to work with Democrats on even the most basic of issues,” the aide said. “This drove them to change their rhetoric for a few weeks, but it didn’t change the fact that they are still completely beholden to the tea party, and they have not taken any action to change that basic fact of life.”

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